Yesterday’s demonstration in Feijia Village 费家村 in northeast Beijing — where hundreds took to the streets to protest the city’s forced evictions that have left tens of thousands homeless — may have been the largest of its kind so far, but it wasn’t the first.
An artist named Hua Yong 华涌 documented a small-scale protest on Thursday in Xinjian Village 新建村 in Xihongmen Town 西红门镇, Daxing District 大兴区, in south Beijing. Hua says in this short video that he was just passing by when he saw villagers gathered on the street. Among their chief complaints was lack of heating in their apartments.
Xinjian, if you’ll remember, is where Beijing’s current cleanup campaign all started: A fire on November 18 reportedly killed 19 people, prompting authorities to order an evacuation. This was followed by a hastily announced 40-day citywide “safety check“; in many residences, water and electricity were reportedly prematurely shut off.
Below, Hua asks a villager, “Why isn’t there food, heat?”
— 苏杨 (@kIbCENCnptRftj0) December 7, 2017
“Government subsidies for heat were siphoned away by local officials” is the reply.
In the next video, amid honking and the presence of police, a woman angrily tells Hua, “How are we regular folk implicated in the Xinjian fire? The government needs to resolve this question, isn’t that right? What does the fire have to do with us? The industrial park [where the fire happened] doesn’t have a penny’s connection with us.”
A woman in a red coat next to her curses “them” for being poisoned with corruption.
【大火之后—愤怒的村民】“这场大火为什么牵扯我们老百姓？工业园区跟我们没有关系。我们已经冻了两个月了。不给我们解决。” 华涌：“警察来了，你们就不怕吗？”村民异口同声：“不怕，不怕！” “他们来了，把我们带走，倒给我们解决温饱了。这叫官逼民反，对不对呀？” 采访后，华涌在村民保护下已撤离。 pic.twitter.com/TRROrMVW0R
— 小札 (@suxinPL) December 7, 2017
“Why would they evict us ordinary people? We’ve been freezing for two months, with no solution even now. This ain’t right. Right? There’s a two-year-old below, upstairs, there’s a 96-year-old man, they’re all freezing together. They won’t resolve it.”
Hua points out the cops and asks if they’re afraid.
All three ladies on camera say no. “I hope they take us away,” says the woman in red.
In addition to the demonstrations in Xinjian and Feijia, there were (unconfirmed) reports of a third protest on Sunday in the area of Nanxiaojie 南小街 on the border of Daxing and Fentai districts, also in south Beijing. As in Feijia, Nanxiaojie’s demonstrators also appear to be holding banners that read “Forced evictions violate human rights” (暴力驱赶，侵犯人权).
— 劣端缤纷岁月 (@szstupidcool) December 10, 2017
Hua, who lives in Beijing’s Songzhuang Village and calls himself a vagrant/bum, released a video yesterday (embedded below) in which he says he is currently on the run from police, relying on friends to shepherd him from one city to another.
He addresses a wide range of subjects in the 40-minute video, including the Daxing fire — in which he questions the official casualty figure of 19 — Beijing’s lower class, social media’s effect on art, and the city’s recent skyline cleanup campaign, in which 27,000 billboards and signs are slated for removal.
“If you still say, ‘Don’t pay attention to politics,’ then you’re not paying attention to your life,” he says. “Your life, your human dignity, if you don’t pay attention to that, then I tell you, you’re not fit to be anything, you’re not fit to be human.”
Hua notes that Sunday was Human Rights Day, and makes an appeal for truth. “If you ask people to not speak the truth, are you not creating terror and lies?”
“Do I have the right to speak?” he asks. “At least I don’t have freedom of speech, to say anything real.”
Hua calls himself an “insignificant ant” who only observes what’s in front of him, and says he doesn’t want to leave China, despite opportunities that have presented themselves. His most recent tweet from two hours ago — which he also posted to his Facebook page — is this letter:
2017-12-11 华涌报平安 pic.twitter.com/aqmrZPfpcy
— 华涌 (@HuaYong798) December 11, 2017
As it stands, living or dying is no longer important, I deeply love my motherland and see hope! If I must die or go to jail, I’d be willing to on my native soil.
Thank you to my friends for their concern, please don’t donate any money for me. I’ll disobey my country even more, I want to see daybreak in my native land!